To be sure, there is an ache in Darren Hernandez’s heart.
In his soul. You lose a beloved mentor, that’s part of life. But it still hurts, not losing football games, not really. He stepped onto the field at Kapolei with his mind on his football team and its game with No. 2-ranked Mililani. But in his gut, Skippa Diaz was on his mind and on his hands.
Hernandez carefully wrapped each digit of each hand with tape, a la Coach Skippa style, as a tribute to his mentor. Now, with a brutal schedule — arguably second toughest to that of Saint Louis — leaving the Hurricanes 0-3 to start the season, there might not be anything more Hernandez would love than to sit with his old friend and simply share thoughts.
Football, they agreed, was about much more than playbooks and drills, important as those are. Diaz was a believer in the game as a tool to lift young men to higher education, this Hernandez knew well. But there are no more conversations between the two friends, not since Diaz died on Saturday. The venerable, legendary former Farrington coach was 70.
On Saturday night, Diaz would’ve seen a Kapolei team making strides, improving as a passing team, a work in progress despite its win-loss mark. He also would’ve seen a Mililani team that is, with little doubt, the most explosive and prolific offensively in school history. The Trojans are cranking out 600 or so yards every week, save for the one game that was forfeited (by McKinley). They’re not demolishing weak, small teams, either. They’re doing the damage against some of the state’s best teams.
Some observations on Mililani’s 41-14 win.
• Fastbreak football. I haven’t seen a team — not this year, last year or in 24 years prior that I’ve been covering prep football – get right back to work, play after play, as quickly and consistently as this Mililani squad. I know it by the rhythm of my work. Normally, I hit the pause button on my video camera, jot down the yardage and details of each play, and have plenty of time to see the next snap.
With these Trojans, I can’t. There were stretches during Mililani drives when I was barely able to jot down the yard line and players’ numbers — often McKenzie Milton’s No. 13 — when the Trojans were go-go-going to the next play. They never seemed to tire, while I could easily see defensive backs on the other side with hands on knees.
That kind of pace and tempo… simply incredible. And only one false start that I can recall.
• Containing ground and pound. A strong game on the ground would’ve been the perfect antidote for Kapolei. Keeping Mililani’s fastbreak football offense on the sideline would have been a huge ingredient in a win. But the ‘Canes couldn’t get it going, try and try as they might. By game’s end, it was a season-low 40 rushing yards on 25 carries.
It wasn’t necessarily failure by the Kapolei offensive line. it was more about Mililani’s combination of physicality, explosiveness and technique up front.
“Leverage,” said Mililani coach Rod York, a former D-lineman at UH.
It doesn’t hurt to have a former NFL veteran defensive lineman like Maa Tanuvasa on staff, too.
“Speed,” defensive tackle Rex Manu said after collecting two of his team’s five sacks.
• Supreme fuel. Milton keeps going and going and going. He played every down on offense for the Trojans, passed for 298 yards and ran for 88 more, accounting for four touchdowns. But ultimately, it’s not just the numbers that make MM13 special.
It’s his orchestration, being the conductor of this hyper-speed offense, and it doesn’t matter if it’s the game’s first drive or the last 3 minutes. He’s going at full speed and aggression every time. Sprinter and long-distance runner in one athlete. He knows precisely when to tuck it and take all that open real estate. And he keeps going without a pit stop.
His mastery and the cohesion — and chemistry — of the offensive line, receivers and coaching staff have led to this: an amazingly lighter load for voracious running back Vavae Malepeai. He hasn’t had a 20-carry game yet, and on Saturday, he had 156 yards and two touchdowns on just 15 carries.
Vae, as his teammates call him, isn’t concerned, at least not outwardly.
“Whatever I can do that’s best for the team,” he said before sprinting off to the team bus after the game.
Mililani could easily toss five or 10 swing passes per game to the guy wearing 19 in a very Dickersonian way. His hands, his hands are superb on the move. He’s shown his receiving skills when requested. But there was none of that at Kapolei. Just another tool in the Mililani kit best saved for another time.
“We took what they gave us,” York said, chanting a mantra that has served the men of Troy well.
• Future tense. The ‘Canes may have lost by a substantial margin, but with patience and determination, they will have a formidable offense to reckon with by the playoffs, if not earlier. Alton Julius had no hesitation in the pocket, willing to keep throwing and throwing even though this is a run-first program. Julius has been prepped well, and as he progresses, so will Kapolei’s postseason chances.
Is it preposterous to talk about postseason for a winless team? Maaaybe. But after seeing the ‘Canes play two weeks in a row, the pieces and potential are clearly visible. Putting it together, well… that will take time.
It’s like a broken heart. Time mends all wounds, and time brings rewards to those who wait. Work and wait.